When most people picture a Florida getaway they dream of sunshine, white sandy beaches, and tiki huts. Not for bass fisherman. For us, it’s miles of fresh water and vegetation holding giant largemouth bass. When the Midwest is under a blanket of snow, Florida can be a great winter destination to escape for some exciting open-water, rod-bending action.
My first stop as a co-angler on the Bassmaster Eastern Opens tournament series landed me on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida – a famed big bass fishery. While it’s true, it still doesn’t mean you will be catching jumbos on every cast. On a lake system this large, it is important to cover a lot of water to find the areas that hold large numbers of quality sized fish. Pre-fishing for the tournament was pretty good all week, but then a massive cold front pushed through the night before the tournament started and water temperatures dropped 7-8 degrees overnight. This pushed the fish off the beds and structure making it tough to locate them. When this happens, it is imperative to slow things down to get bites from these lethargic fish. Of course, bait selection was critical as well. Here are a few that helped us put several largemouth bass in the boat.
The Zoom Speed Worm
The first bait, a Junebug colored Zoom Speed Worm, is a classic Florida bass fishing presentation. It was Texas rigged with a 3/16 or ¼ ounce tungsten worm weight, pegged on an EWG worm hook. 17-pound fluorocarbon kept the presentation abrasion resistant, yet invisible in the water. One of the reasons this bait is so popular is because of its versatility. The standard paddle tail version was used to target isolated pieces of cover, such as lone or scattered clumps of reeds, or what the locals call ‘buggy whips’. A cast would be made past the cover and the worm would be swam subsurface through or directly alongside the cover with the hopes of triggering an aggressive fish. If that didn’t work, a repeat cast would be made, but this time the retrieve was a slower drag along the bottom, with long pauses when contacting the cover.
From R to L: Zoom Speedworm, Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Worm, Senko, and the BPS Stik-O Worm
Texas Rigged Ultra Vibe Speed Worm
The Ultra Vibe Speed Worm was used as a top-water style bait. It was also Texas rigged weightless or with a small tungsten worm weight to increase casting distance. This setup was perfect around flat-laying lily pads and patches of grass. It was reeled at a moderate speed over the top of the pads causing the tail to wag and splash. The fish seemed to track the worm and as it would reach open pockets in the pads they would explode on it. As with many topwater presentations, although exciting, the hookup ratio was not very good at times. A follow-up cast would sometimes get another strike, otherwise pausing the retrieve and letting the bait fall into holes in the cover got reaction bites as well.
Wacky Rigged Senko
For fish set up on edges or in sparse cover, a wacky rigged Senko was the hot bait. Hook choice was a number 1 VMC wacky hook, and wacky band for hooking the worms. The two Senkos were a 5” Yamamoto in baby bass color, and a Bass Pro Shops Stik-O in black and blue flake. Although more expensive, I prefer these because they seemed to have the correct density and sink rate versus other brands. Several other baits caught fish throughout the week of practice but did not produce the same number of bites, especially after the cold front.
The way bass fishing is going, there are new baits hitting the market every year. Each one crazier in color and style than the next. One of the first artificial plastics I used growing up bass fishing was a worm. It was fun to get back to basics throwing it around, and remembering how such a simple bait is still so effective. Although Florida is a thousand miles away, these same techniques can be used back in my home state of Wisconsin. The fish use the same types of structure including lily pads and reeds, that can be attacked using the speed worm. The wacky rigged Senko can be used around the same type of scattered grass and on submerged weed lines. Although the lakes in Wisconsin are still covered in feet of ice, it won’t be long until it’s time to chase midwestern bass around in open water. Try out some of these techniques to target spawning fish or tempt the most stubborn bass during those dreaded cold fronts. Stay positive and chase that next bite!